Fenix I Rotterdam

Fenix I Rotterdam

With its steel and concrete vertical extension positioned on top of a hundred-year-old port warehouse, Fenix I is a new landmark for Rotterdam. An ingenious 1.5-million-kilogram steel construction connects old and new in this unique project. The former warehouse has been redeveloped to incorporate a mix of catering, theatre and commercial establishments, while the newly built residential volume consists of 200 apartments.

In the Rotterdam Katendrecht district, Fenix I is an intriguing construction: how can such a colossal glass, steel and concrete building be positioned on top of this age-old port warehouse? The brick walls of this monumental building could not possibly carry this load. And yet, the new build, consisting of no fewer than nine residential levels without a visible supporting structure, connects seamlessly with the warehouse. ‘Almost forty steel columns were driven through the old building,’ Robert Winkel of Mei Architects & Planners explains. ‘A “tabletop” was placed on top of this steel construction, as it were, on which the concrete new build was constructed with lattice girders. Construction-wise, they are two separate buildings. In total, 1.5 million kilograms of steel was used in this construction.’

Fenix I consists of Fenix Docks, the old warehouse which has been redeveloped into a site with hotel, catering and cultural establishments, and Fenix Lofts, the new build on top with more than 200 high-quality apartments and penthouses. The lofts’ industrial look is in keeping with the traditional port architecture. ‘We opted for aluminium exterior joinery to lighten the load. Plus, the tough aluminium also has a constructional quality,’ says the architect.

The transition between the two Rotterdam construction types is marked by an interlayer of lofts with over 4 metres’ free height, with a glass curtain wall, which is set back in relation to the two buildings. This makes the contemporary Fenix Lofts part of the building look even more massive and gives the impression that it is virtually floating above the old brick building.

Public walkway

In reality, both buildings are interconnected. Winkel explains: ‘The entrance to the lofts is situated in a walkway in the old warehouse, with residents walking past the lecture rooms of Codarts Rotterdam and Circus Rotjeknor. The lift then takes them literally through the roof of the warehouse to their apartments. This roof has been opened up above the walkway so that you can already see your own apartment from the ground floor.’ During the day, this interior walkway is open to the public to access the restaurants on the quay via Veerlaan. This creates unexpected meetings between residents, passers-by and young artists.’

The constructional ingenuity of Fenix I is unprecedented in terms of scale and complexity. ‘We had to find space among the existing foundation for the foundation of Fenix Lofts.’ This clash between old and new remains visible, with the new steel columns placed next to the existing concrete columns and girders supporting the old building. In the historic warehouse front, the original openings were kept and contemporary windows were fitted, which hint at the new build above. At the same time, the historic railway along the façades was revealed again.

‘Back in the day, trains would simply run through the building. We wanted to keep this grandeur visible.’ It is a paradox that this building of superlatives was able to be built thanks to a crisis. ‘It probably would not have been in these times of rising material and building costs.’

‘Daydream’ brackets

The lofts have glass façades with lightweight aluminium windows, which results in a transparent appearance and bright interiors. Every loft façade can be opened halfway to the balcony in one single hand movement. The cantilevered balconies create slim horizontal façade lines. Through powerful repetition, the sturdy steel U profiles in the glass partitions of the balconies emphasise the geometry of the façade. ‘By making the top of these specially designed U profiles wider, these “daydream” brackets are wonderful places to stand. The balconies are spacious and about 2.5 metres deep so that, even at a 20-metre height, you can experience that wonderful outdoor feeling, with panoramic views of the river Maas or Katendrecht.’

A large courtyard garden was created on the structural ‘tabletop’ above the warehouse, as a meeting place for the residents. Here, Fenix Lofts unfolds itself into an intimate residential complex. Through the stacking of the lofts, from six floors on the landward side to nine floors on the north side of Rijnhaven, this shared outdoor space enjoys plenty of sunshine. The façades are made of wood, the shade of which becomes gradually lighter as you move down floors, so that the lower residential levels appear to be brighter. The subtle aluminium windows have an off-white finish, just like the stairs and balustrades.

Trendy residential district

When it was built in 1922, the San Fransiscoloods was the longest port warehouse in the world and the pride of Katendrecht. After a fire in the 1950s, the warehouse was rebuilt in two parts and renamed Fenix I and Fenix II. The neighbourhood declined but in the past ten years, even the former red-light district has risen from the ashes to become a trendy residential district. ‘Katendrecht is one of the most sought-after residential districts in Rotterdam. It would be great if Fenix were to become the symbol of regained pride of Katendrecht.’ A wish that will no doubt come true. The imposing Fenix I has created a more concentrated housing supply and a connection with the tall tower blocks on the opposite side of Rijnhaven. This connection is not achieved just through volume; it is also reinforced by the injection of metropolitan allure and the marriage of old and new.

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Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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